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May 27, 2010   Email to Friend 

LADY IN THE PARLOR: Mobile Dairy Classroom Teacher Keeps Milk On The Moove
By Darryal Ray

Amanda Griffith explains the milking process to a group of elementary students.
It was only a few minutes into show time when Cocoa, the Jersey cow, had an "accident" that drew a round of giggles from about 60 Walter Kennedy Elementary students.

"You're going to have to excuse Cocoa because she IS farm-trained," Amanda Griffith tells the kids attending a Farm Day event in Pell City. "That means she goes wherever she wants, whenever she wants."

It's all in a day's work for Alabama's milk maiden -- a petite, 27-year-old Auburn grad who travels all over Alabama and portions of northern Florida with an 800-pound dairy cow and 35-foot-long mobile milking parlor, commonly called the Mobile Dairy Classroom.

Her mission?

"Sell milk," she answers without hesitation. "In a nutshell, that's what I do. But I'm also trying to get these kids to take better care of their bodies and drink more milk, trying to push a little agriculture on them and maybe even get them interested in becoming young farmers. But the main focus is to talk about nutrition and how milk can help their bodies grow."

This free educational program of the Alabama Dairy Producers (a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation), in cooperation with Southwest Dairy Farmers and Lone Star Milk Producers, visits hundreds of schools, fairs, festivals, libraries, day care centers and other community events each year, reaching literally thousands with the message that milk ... well, does a body good.

At least another dozen mobile classrooms serve other states that comprise the Southwest Dairy Farmers organization.

Since taking the job in October 2008, Griffith has logged more than ~51,000 miles, visited 127 schools, delivered 419 presentations to 60,000 people and milked 3,350 gallons of milk from five different cows. Sometimes, she's on the road seven days a week and often visits two schools in a day. In one month alone, she presented the demonstration to as many as 9,000 students.

"The Mobile Dairy Classroom is a great way to show how today's farmers are dedicated to providing you with safe, high-quality milk and dairy products," said Guy Hall, director of the Federation's Dairy Division. "It's not only our goal to educate the consumer about the nutritional value of cheese, milk, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products, but also shed some light on how they get into the dairy case of their grocery store."

Each visit features a live milking demonstration and an oral presentation by Griffith, who uses a flip chart to teach the characteristics and anatomy of dairy cows, the importance of dairy foods for good health, the modern milking process and modern environmental and food safety practices.

The demonstrations are adjusted to the appropriate age groups, although Griffith says the lack of agricultural knowledge is not confined to elementary-aged kids. More than one adult has asked -- quite seriously, she says -- the question, "Does chocolate milk come from brown cows?"

"I've actually had parents and teachers ask me that question," she says. "One lady thought my cow laid eggs because I had a carton of eggs sitting down on the ledge out front. I've had several instances where I thought, 'Man, alive! These people have no idea where their food comes from!' You work with them the best you can and hope they learn something."

A self-described "city girl" born and raised in Prattville, Griffith had never even pulled a trailer before. Still the prospect of towing one 35-feet long through heavy city traffic and narrow country lanes didn't dissuade her.

She soon discovered, however, that Carson, a 1,700-pound Holstein, really wasn't the best "fit" -- literally -- for the Mobile Dairy Classroom. Neither was No. 82, which was about 200 pounds lighter.

"I love the breed but they just don't fit very well in this trailer," Griffith said of her recent Holstein traveling companions. "They can't lie down in the back, and they actually have to stand at an angle in the trailer. And if you saw Carson standing where she is to be milked, her head hangs out because she can't fit in there."

Because of that, Griffith -- who only stands 5-5 and weighs 120 with boots on -- decided that she would make the switch from the largest dairy breed (Holstein) to the smallest (Jersey).

"I know that when these kids see me pull up, that's what they expect to see -- a black-and-white Holstein," she said. "But I think it's better they see that there are different types of cows. It's not just the black-and-white."

The cows, leased by Southwest Dairy Farmers, are rotated out about every six months, not only because they must calve each year but because life on the road is hard.

"Yesterday, it was close to a 12-hour day because not only did I go to three schools from almost 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., but I also had to load the cow, take care of the cow before we got there and clean up everything afterwards," she said. "Then, I still had all these phone calls and emails to deal with and scheduling. So it's not only the show aspect, but it's all the paperwork, too -- finances, receipts, copies of everything. I'm always behind. If I'm not doing something with the truck or trailer and keeping it well maintained or taking care of the cow, I'm trying to get in touch with everybody. There just aren't enough hours in a day."

The good days, however, far outweigh the bad. "Days like this Farm Day -- those are gravy days," she said. "It's just an easy-going way of life. To me, it's a relaxing kind of job. I love the travel, meeting different people every day and it's something different every day. ... I decide everything. I schedule, I get the cows -- pretty much A to Z. It's put in my hands and I throw it together."

Even the repetitiveness of the milk message doesn't get to her.

"Every day you try to do something different that you didn't do the day before. And every group is different so every group is going to react differently. You have to find out what clicks with them," she said. "You never know how much these kids will take in. Every school's different. Some have a strong agricultural background or the teachers make sure they learn it. Some have no clue."

Then, of course, there are some questions best left unanswered.

"I had one girl who asked, 'If cows make milk, what do bulls do?'" Griffith said with a smile. "I kind of passed that question by."

Interested in having the Mobile Dairy Classroom at your school or event? Make your request online by visiting MobileDairy.com and completing a request form, listing several date choices. You can also email AGriffith@SouthwestDairyFarmers.com.



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